Interlude

by Linda Bindner

Chewie will never fit in one of those chairs, Han said to himself as the suave Lando Calrissian began a tour of the plush apartment assigned to the Rebels taking refuge from the Empire in Bespin's Cloud City mining colony. The chairs were velvet plush and looked comfortable, but were not even remotely big enough to accommodate a creature the size of a two meter tall Wookie. Perhaps that was the reason for the many backless sofas and divans spread at intervals around the room. And, as Lando exuberantly explained, everything was white to properly reflect the sunlight streaming in the expansive windowed ceiling. Han squinted at the brightness as he leaned against a carved white pillar, and nonchalantly crossed his arms on his chest while the tour continued.

Lando touched Princess Leia's elbow to lead her from the sitting area up a set of two steps to a second level. Several doors opened onto the central area and the administrator indicated one in particular to the princess. Leia acknowledged his offer with a very slight nod of her head, and Lando passed his hand across the door sensor to reveal a splendid bedroom beyond.

Solo recognized the look in Leia's eyes when she bothered to glance up at Lando's beaming face. She's cold as Hoth, he noticed and turned to the windows to hide his amused smile from his old friend. Ignoring Leia's practiced snubbing techniques, Lando went on talking and openly flirting, his eyes never leaving the princess to even glance at Han or Chewie. One thing about Lando, Han thought wryly, once he settled his sights on something, he didn't relent until he acquired it. But Solo wasn't worried. He'd seen Princess Leia play this game a thousand times... well, at least a hundred times... with the same outcome at each encounter. This would be no different. In the end, she would leave Lando's ears burning with one of her scathing remarks, and that would be that. Han didn't think that even Lando Calrissian could be so stupid as to try more than once.

Still, Han was forced to admit that Lando was giving this one shot his utmost effort. ``...and over here,'' he was saying, heading for a tall inlaid panel that slid aside when he pushed a button on a control pad, ``I'm sure you will find comfortable attire that can only enhance such beauty as you possess.''

That remark was a bit too much to accept quietly. Chewie snorted and smirked at his partner across the room.

Han rolled his eyes and covered his smile with one hand. He watched Leia smile her closed-lip smile, and she calmly replied, ``That's very kind of you, but truly unnecessary.''

``Of course it's no trouble at all,'' Lando said smoothly, grinning from ear to ear like an enamored school boy.

This is gonna be good! Han moved up the steps to get a better view of the attractions Lando had displayed in the bedroom's closet and to hear any retorts the princess might bestow on the administrator.

Chewbacca mumbled a few barks in Han's ear, suggesting that he should interrupt the exchange and save Lando from complete embarrassment. Han licked his lips in enjoyment and shook his head. ``Save that idiot? Naaaaw, I want to see what she does to him. Now stop bellowing, I can't hear.''

By now Calrissian had reached into the recess and pulled out two outfits, both of them flowing dresses adorned with sparkling sequins and nonexistent necklines. Nope, Han thought, his eyes darting through the plethora of robes, dresses, and skirts brought out for Leia's approval.

Then Han elbowed Chewie in the ribs. ``Hey, see that red thing? I like that one.''

The Wookie grunted a reluctant agreement, though he personally didn't see what difference it made what the princess wore, though it seemed to matter quite a bit to both smugglers.

``I bet Lando doesn't even notice it,'' Han added under his breath.

Finally Lando paused in his parade of apparel when it was evident that his polished charisma wasn't impressing Leia like he thought it should. ``Perhaps you prefer to rest before you freshen up?'' he proposed at last.

Equally as courteous, Leia answered, ``Yes, that's an excellent idea, Administrator.'' Her glance strayed briefly to Han. ``It was a long journey.''

With that glance, Han's heart skipped a beat, but he managed to calmly say, ``Yeah, a longer one than I care to repeat.''

Lando laughed and turned his attention to Solo. ``Getting old, eh, Han?'' He slapped his hand on Solo's shoulder hard enough to make the captain loose his balance. ``Well, you take it easy here for a time and I'll see to the Falcon.''

Han smiled easily, though he wouldn't completely trust Lando with a discarded piece of trash. ``Thanks,'' he said as sincerely as he could.

``My pleasure. Think of it as a gift from one pirate to another.'' Lando familiarly socked Chewie on the arm, then turned to Leia. ``I remain your servant, Leia. Until later, then.'' He gallantly kissed Leia's fingers and with a courtly bow, strode from the room.

Han was mildly disappointed that Lando had managed to get away without a single harsh word from Princess Leia, but he realized that sarcastic comments didn't mesh well with diplomacy.

However, the minute the door closed behind Calrissian, Leia crossed her arms and confronted Han. ``How did you ever get to be friends with him?'' she asked.

``Why? Is something wrong with him?''

Leia snorted a laugh. ``He's just so elegant, so agreeable. I hardly knew what to say to him after spending so much time with you,'' she teased.

Han's brow furrowed. One thing he didn't want her to do was to compare him to Lando Calrissian! To hide his sudden discomfort, he passed her and threw himself down on the large bed gracing the center of the bedroom. ``He's just acting for your sake and trying to impress you for mine. It's all a game,'' he explained, suddenly weary of the intricacies of politics.

Leia raised her eyebrows at both smugglers and dryly said, ``I'm aware of that.''

Chewie barked a laugh as she ambled slowly back to the closet.

Han glared at the Wookie. ``Oh, shut up, Fuzzface. Why don't you go explore or check on the Falcon or do something useful instead of wasting your energy insulting me?''

Nothing would suit the Wookie better. He felt too confined in their posh surroundings, anyway. Chewie laughed again before taking Han's advice and following their host into the pristine white corridors of Cloud City.

``Give her the once over. I'll be down in a while,'' Han called after his copilot. Then he laced his fingers across his stomach and relaxed against the soft mattress, prepared to enjoy the luxury of their chosen haven for the moment at least. He surreptitiously watched Leia through his lashes as she fingered Lando's closet regalia.

She pulled out a particularly ridiculous dress and held it up to inspect. ``Somehow I don't think I'm the first female your friend has tried to sweet-talk and impress.'' When he didn't respond, she continued doubtfully, ``I don't know about this, Han. What do you think?''

Han languidly opened his eyes and peeked at the dress still in her hands. ``I don't think it's you. Too revealing.''

Leia released the dress to place one hand on her hip. ``Oh!'' she said in irritation. ``You know what I mean!''

He chuckled at her. ``Easy now, Princess. Lando's got the hots for every girl that crosses his path. He's always been that way. But he's harmless, trust me.''

``As harmless as you, I suppose?''

He grinned disarmingly. ``Sweetheart, harmless is my middle name.''

She shook her head. ``I've known you too long to believe that line, Solo!''

He sat up with a grunt and pushed his fingers vigorously through his hair. ``You're right, you have.'' Then he flashed his grin at her. ``But you've had a good time, haven't you?''

Her eyebrow rose. ``That's debatable.''

Her words were icy and formidable, but Han caught the teasing tone behind them. He couldn't help himself; he laughed. He knew she was enjoying their banter as much as he was. ``This is kind of fun, isn't it?''

Leia returned the dress to its place with a sardonic lift of her eyebrow. ``I'd feel better if the ship was fixed and we were back at the fleet.''

``No need to worry there. Lando never could resist a chance to tinker with the Falcon. She'll be ready to go before you are.'' He rose from the bed and joined her at the closet. ``In the meantime, I suggest you enjoy yourself at Lando's expense.''

``He is very charming,'' she said thoughtfully.

``Yeah, well don't let him carry you away,'' he commented, suddenly a touch jealous.

Now it was Leia's turn to chuckle. ``Always good advice when dealing with a smuggler, right?''

Han sighed. ``Yeah, right.''

She grinned at him. ``That's what I thought.'' Her grin grew to a true smile of affection.

Han marveled at the way a simple smile could erase the strain and tension from her face and transform her into a a woman so stunningly beautiful that it took his breath away. At least Lando was right about that, he admitted. One day he supposed he would get used to Leia's elegant, inborn beauty, but it had yet to cease to amaze him.

Unfortunately, his other lady was waiting for his attention. ``Hey, I'm gonna check on the ship, just to make sure they're not stealing any of her parts. Will you be all right here?''

Leia nodded impatiently. ``I can take care of myself.''

``Uh-huh. I know, I know,'' he laughed. In a parting gesture he gently touched her cheek with his hand and gave her a saucy wink, then slipped out of the apartment.

When he had gone, Leia stood in front of the closet for a long time, thinking about Han and the surge of happiness that inevitably burst through her every time they were together. Try as she might, she could not squash the joy and excitement she felt over him, and now she no longer wanted to. Though it had seemed unlikely at first, she was beginning to perceive that her destiny was unalterably linked with Han Solo's and that to fight it was wrong as well as impossible. It was far more pleasant to accept him and the joy he brought as part of her life.

One last time she reached into Lando's overstocked wardrobe, pushing aside the tight dresses and gaudy skirts until she found what she was looking for; a simple, elegant tunic and pants made from a soft, striking red material. A long flowing white vest materialized next in her hand, and she held it up with the rest, eyeing it critically. The princess was slow to admit what she was doing, since she had never actually dressed to impress a man before.

But as she began removing the layers of her quilted suit, she reluctantly supposed there was a first time for everything.


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